How to Read the Holy Bible (Part II)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By The Right Reverend KALLISTOS, Bishop of Diokleia

"All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Ti 3:16)

Each of the four Evangelists has his own particular standpoint. Matthew is the most "ecclesiastical" and the most Jewish of the four, with his special interest in the relationship of the Gospel to the Jewish Law, and his understanding of Christianity as the "New Law." Mark writes in less polished Greek, closer to the language of daily life, and includes vivid narrative details not found in the other Gospels. Luke emphasizes the universality of Christ's love, His all-embracing compassion that extends equally to Jew and Gentile. The Fourth Gospel expresses a more inward and mystical approach, and was aptly styled by Saint Clement of Alexandria "a spiritual Gospel." Let us explore and enjoy the full this Life-giving variety within the Holy Bible.

Because Holy Scripture is in this way the word of God expressed in human language, there is a place for honest and exacting critical inquiry when studying the Holy Bible. Our reasoning brain is a gift from God, and we need not be afraid to use it to the utmost when reading Holy Scripture. We Orthodox Christians neglect at our peril the results of independent scholarly research into the origin, dates, and authorship of the books of the Holy Bible, although we shall always want to test these results in the light of Holy Tradition.

Alongside this human element, however, we are to see always the divine aspect. These texts are not simply the work of the individual authors. What we hear in Holy Scripture are not just human words, marked by a greater or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the Uncreated Logos/Word of God Himself, the Father's Logos/Word "coming forth from silence," to use the phrase of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, the Eternal Logos/Word of salvation. Approaching the Holy Bible, then, we come not merely out of curiosity, to gain historical information. We come with a specific question: "How can I be saved?"

Obedient receptivity to God's word means above all two things: a sense of wonder and an attitude of listening. (1) Wonder is easily quenched. Do we not feel all too often, as we read the Holy Bible, that it has become over-familiar, even boring? Have we not lost our alertness, our sense of expectation? How far are we changed by what we read? Continually we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and to look with new eyes, in awe and amazement, at the miracle that is set before us--the ever-present miracle of God's divine word of salvation, expressed in human language. As Plato remarked, "The beginning of truth is to wonder at things."

Should we not react in the presence of the Holy Bible with exactly the same surprise, the same feeling of joy and discovery?  

(2) If obedience means wonder, it also means listening. Such indeed is the literal meaning of the word for "obey" in both Greek and Latin--to hear (ypakoe). The trouble is the most of us are better at talking than listening.

One of the primary requirements, if we are to acquire a "Scriptural mind," Is to stop talking and to start listening. When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the traditional way, and look up towards the Sanctuary, we see there is the Apse the figure of the Mother of God with her hands raised to heaven--the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. Such is also to be our attitude to Holy Scripture--an attitude of openness and attentive receptivity, our hands invisibly outstretched to heaven.

As we read our Holy Bible, then, we are to model ourselves in this way on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens. At the Annunciation, listening to the Angel she responds obediently, "Let it be to me according to Thy Word" (Luke 1:38). Had she not first listened to God's Word and received it spiritually in her heart, she would never have borne the Logos/Word of God bodily in her womb. Receptive listening continues to be her attitude throughout the Gospel story. At Christ's Nativity, after the adoration of the shepherds, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). After the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old, "His Mother kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51). The vital importance of listening is also indicated in the last words attributed to the Theotokos in Holy Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, "Do what He tells you" (John 2:5), she says to the servants and to each one of us.

In all this the Ever-Virgin serves as a mirror and living icon of the biblical Christian. Hearing God's word, we are to be like her: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience while God speaks. (Source: Orthodox Study Bible)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George